You have high expectations about your newly bought air conditioner. After all, you almost burned through your savings in purchasing a state-of-the-art unit and installation costs. Yet in the blaring heat of the summer, you do not feel quite as comfortable as you expect. Insulation could be the issue.
If you don’t know it already, you need adequate insulation in your home to be comfortable and, more importantly, be energy-efficient.
So how can you insulate your home like a pro? What are the benefits of insulating your home properly and sufficiently? When is the best time to insulate? What is the best insulation material to use?
All these and more will be discussed below, so keep on reading.
How Do You Install Insulation in Your Home Like A Pro?
There are four basic things you need to know if you want your home insulation to work in your favor, not against you.
- Know the required insulation for your climate. Each state has a required number of R-Values (resistance to heat flow) in a residence. Find out your home’s current R-Value and plan to insulate until you meet the necessary figure for your location.
- Understand your home’s unique structure and design. Your home’s unique design and whether it is newly built or an existing structure will significantly impact your insulation process. Consult a professional to determine which insulation method and insulation material will fit various parts of your house.
- Find the insulation material that suits you. Insulation materials vary in what they are made of, which areas in the house they are best suited to, and the application process. Research insulation materials that you can DIY and those that can only be handled by professionals.
- Don’t skip air sealing and moisture control. Fix the air barriers, seal the gaps, deal with moisture problems, and check for the presence of asbestos. Without these steps, your home insulation would be ineffective.
These steps may seem tedious and entail a lot of hard work. But why is it worth investing your time, money, and energy to master home insulation?
Why Should You Insulate?
All of us are affected by heat in almost the exact way: too much heat would get us all sweaty, irritable, tense, and hot-headed; not enough of it would get us chilly, lethargic, and even frost-bitten.
So, we invest in temperature-altering devices such as the AC, furnace, and heaters to help us out in the worst of summers and winters no matter how expensive. Yet, that may not be enough to give us the optimum comfort.
A natural movement of heat called the “heat flow” is a probable obstacle for you to attain the ideal comfortable home. Heat flow, or as some dub it, “heat transfer”, is the innate tendency of heat to move from an environment with a high temperature to a place quite colder.
It can happen in three ways: via conduction, convection, or radiation. Conduction is the transfer of heat through direct contact and usually with solid objects. Convection is the rising of hot air to the ceiling and circulating to different parts of the house. The sun is a common source of heat through radiation, and it comes in waves and moves in a straight path.
Insulation in a home, if adequate and strategically placed, could act as a resistance to such movement of heat. Insulation material is rated based on its “R-values”, or its resistance to conductive heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better it can prevent heat transfer thus making it effective.
In the absence of sufficient insulation, the overall comfort, health, and safety of the family would suffer. It could also put a great strain on the heating and cooling systems which result in overwhelmingly high electric bills.
Let us break down why insulation is one of the best investments you could put into your home.
Reduced Electricity Bills
There is no doubt that heating and air conditioning cost a lot to operate. According to the Department of Energy, Americans spend approximately $29 billion each year on air conditioning costs alone. While Energy Star calculates that the annual average spending for a home furnace and central air is nearly 43% of a year’s total energy spending.
This can become easily inflated if the cold air that your AC worked so hard to produce gets mixed up with the summer heat from the outside, while the heated air from your furnace escapes your walls and windows. What a waste!
The US Environmental Protection Agency says that there is an average of 15% savings on heating and cooling costs if a home puts on additional insulation combined with air sealing.
Increased Thermal Comfort
Insulation done the right way could give you the ideal temperature promised by the HVAC systems you purchased. If you set your thermostat to 65 degrees, you can bet your AC and furnace would deliver. No more sweaty afternoons in the summer and cold drafts in the winter!
Assured Health and Safety
Without proper insulation, the temperature around the house would be uneven, creating cold spots in certain areas like the attic, basement, kitchen, and bathroom. These are the favorite spots for mold and mildew to grow and reproduce inciting allergies and other respiratory illnesses.
By trapping small air pockets causing the movement of heat to decelerate, insulation helps maintain the uniformity of temperature around your home. This will significantly decrease the chance of mold developing, making it easier to breathe in your living spaces.
Less Environmental Impact
You will be helping the environment a lot by installing adequate insulation in your home. Since your house will be energy-efficient, it will require a lesser amount of energy to heat and cool your living space, conserving nonrenewable fuel supplies such as natural gas, propane, fuel oil, and electricity along the way.
Did you know? Installing insulation in just 4% of all North American housing equals the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by planting 667 million acres of trees. Pretty cool, yes?
When Should You Insulate?
We have dealt with the “Why?”, now let’s move on to the “When?” When is the best time to insulate your home?
It is always best to start planning and dealing with the insulation in the early parts of your homemaking. This way, you could already experience the benefits and comfort of a well-insulated abode.
The Department of Energy suggests that it is more cost-effective to install insulation during the construction of a new home rather than adding it after the structure is already built. DOE provides abundant information on where to insulate your home, the recommended R-values for such areas, and which type of insulation best suits your needs.
A word of caution, though: Installation of electrical wires should always come first before putting in the insulation. The wiring needs to be woven in and out of the wall holes and it would be a huge pain to do that with the insulation in place! It is also highly suggested to air seal your home and consider moisture control before insulating for new home construction.
If you live in a home that has long been constructed, it is still never too late to properly insulate your home. This is probably the case for most Americans who inherited or transferred to older homes.
Before proceeding to install or add insulation to an existing home, here are some of the important steps to take to be successful in your project:
1. Inspect and evaluate your current insulation. You can either do it yourself or use the help of a qualified home energy auditor. The insulation is most likely accessible around the outlet boxes. Make sure that the power is off before inspecting how thick the existing insulation is and getting a small sample.
2. Find out how much additional R-value you need. Use the sample you acquired from the existing wall and check its designated R-value. Next, know how much insulation you still require and where to install it using the Home Energy Saver tool.
3. Calculate the insulation expenses versus the savings. If you use the Home Energy Saver tool, you will also learn which energy upgrades best suit you, the type and amount of additional insulation, and how much you will gain from your home investment.
4. Decide on the type of insulation and which areas to insulate. The Department of Energy has been very generous in providing reliable information on which kind of insulation you prefer based on your needs, and more importantly, your budget.
How Should You Insulate?
It is convenient to think that you simply purchase a high-end air conditioning or heating system, and it is all going to be comfy inside your new home year-round. But as soon as you settle in, you will quickly realize that there is still something missing.
You noticed some beads of condensation in the window, cold drafts and hot spots in certain parts of the house, and a general distressing feeling caused by an uneven temperature in your living space.
Insulation is the unsung hero of home comfort as it solves these pesky little problems. It blocks the heat from outside to enter your air-conditioned space, so you feel cool and dry during the hottest of summers. Insulation also prevents the heat produced by your furnace to escape which keeps you cozy in the worst of winters and still maximizes the energy you are using.
So, before we go into the “How?”, let us take a step back and consider the essential factors in home insulation.
The Value of R-Values
It is almost impossible to decide on which insulation material to use or even start your insulation project without understanding the fundamentals of R-values rating. It has been touched on earlier in the article, but let’s dig in further.
The “R” in this prevalent terminology in the insulation industry stands for “resistance to heat flow,” according to the Federal Trade Commission or FTC.
What, now, is “heat flow”? It is the natural movement of heat from a warm place to a cold place. So, when it is summer, the heat from the outside naturally invades your shaded and air-conditioned rooms, while in winter, the warmth from your heated living space wants to escape to the chilly outdoors.
It is quite easy to comprehend the R-value rule: the higher the R-value, the better its performance in insulating a space. Three major factors are influencing the R-value level: its particular kind of insulation material, the thickness, and the density.
Although adding more and more insulation will naturally increase the R-value, you would have to watch out for compression. Especially for loose-fill insulation, the additional layers of insulation will increase the settled density of the material under its weight so you will not increase the overall R-value after all.
The key thing to remember is to avoid leaving gaps where heat could still evade, as they are the known weakness of any type of insulation.
Your Climate will Dictate
Since not all states have the same climate, each location has a standard requirement for the number of R-values in a residence.
This table is supplied by Energy Star, a joint program of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, dedicated to “providing simple, credible, and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions” for Americans regarding energy efficiency.
The table shows the recommended insulation levels for retrofitting existing wood-framed buildings for the attic and floors. It is best to view this table with the map of all the states so you will know which zone your locations belong to.
If you need further help in determining the standard residential code for insulation in your area, the Insulation Institute offers help to homeowners “to make informed insulation choices.” They have a page dedicated for residents to check the standard building energy codes and insulation requirements for each of the 50 states.
Know Your Place
In the same way that locations are different, the make-up and structure of your house can have unique requirements for insulation.
You would have to know the distinctive characteristics of your home so you could better decide which insulation material fits each of its sections.
What kind of attic do you have, a finished or an unfinished one? Is your ceiling vented or unvented? Should you prioritize the exterior or the interior walls? Is the garage below your floor unheated? Do you still have to insulate your basement or crawlspace? Is your crawlspace ventilated or unventilated?
If you are clueless about more than half of the questions above, it would be best to do further research on the matter as you inspect your abode. You can also seek the help of a professional to examine your house for you and give you recommendations on which insulation materials are suited for each particular section of your home.
Insulation Material That Suits You
The truth is there is no one right answer to the question, “What insulation material should I use for my home?” But the Department of Energy, along with other credible sources can give you information on the characteristics of the insulation materials, where they are applicable, how to install them, and each one’s benefits that can help you decide which suits your living spaces.
What Type of Insulation Best Fit my Home?
You can pick from a diverse selection of insulation materials, all with varying methods of application, cost, and difficulty levels of installation.
Batts and Rolls Blankets
These are usually made from fiberglass, mineral wool that can either be rock or slag, plastic, and natural fibers. Blankets go best on unfinished walls, floors, ceilings, and even the foundation.
The common way to install them is by fitting them between studs, joists, and beams, especially if there are no obstructions around these areas.
Batts and rolls are quite easy to install even without the help of a professional. They are also more affordable compared to other insulating materials.
Concrete Block Insulation
Foam boards and foam beads are typical examples of this insulation method. If you are doing the insulation to a newly constructed structure, the foam boards are installed on the outside of the walls. If you are adding the material to an existing home, the board should go inside the wall
If you are still in the early stages of construction or doing major renovations, your unfinished and foundation walls can benefit from this insulation material.
Unlike batt insulation, installation of concrete block insulation will require specialized skill. But it could be worth it because its foremost advantage helps insulate cores which can increase the R-value of your walls.
A pro tip from DOE says that if you use autoclaved aerated concrete and autoclaved cellular concrete, you will have 10 times the insulating value than regular concrete.
Foam Board or Rigid Foam
These foams are made from polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, and polyurethane. Besides the usual areas such as the unfinished and foundation walls, floors, and ceilings, foam board or rigid foam are perfect for unvented low slope roofs.
Caution must be exercised when installing these materials as they can be fire hazards. It should be covered with the first 1/2-inch gypsum board or other building-code-approved material if you are installing it indoors. If you are applying it on the exterior, it has to be covered with weatherproof facing.
There are unique gains from using this type of insulation. Despite its apparent thinness, it has a high insulating value and the ability to block thermal short circuits if the foam boards are installed continuously over frames.
Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs)
What is special about ICFs is that it is built as part of the structure instead of being installed or added to your home. Because of this, insulating concrete forms provide high resistance to heat flow.
These are made from foam boards or foam blocks and are suited for unfinished walls or foundation walls during the construction stage.
Loose-fill or Blown-in Insulation
This type of insulation is typically used for spaces that are not within reach, irregularly shaped, or have obstructions all around the area such as enclosed walls or unfinished attic floors. There are places where you can rent a blower of the machine to use for blowing in or pouring in the cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool.
Loose-fill or blown-in insulation is an ideal option when you have an existing home with a minimal amount of insulation, and you simply want to add more to increase the R-value.
Reflective systems such as radiant barriers may not inherently have R-values in them but they are great for reducing heat gain. For it to be effective, it has to face an air space. The more space it has, the higher its productivity.
The common materials are out of foil-faced kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard. Another great thing about it is you can do the installation yourself.
Sprayed, Injected, or Foamed-in-Place Insulation
It can be likened to the loose-fill or blown-in insulation mentioned earlier as they are better suited for adding installation in existing, inaccessible, and uneven areas.
However, they normally come in smaller spray containers or pressure sprayers.
Rigid Fibrous or Fiber Insulation
This type of insulation material is suited for ducts in unconditioned spaces because it can handle high temperatures. They are typically made from fiberglass or mineral wool.
You might need the professional help of a contractor on this one as they often perform the fabrication in their shops or on the job site itself if the conditions are appropriate.
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
Made from foam board or liquid foam insulation core or straw core insulation, SIPs fit well with unfinished walls, ceilings, floors, and roofs for new construction.
Instead of fitting it in the crevices of the house like the other insulation materials, SIPs are laid out side-by-side and on top of each other to construct walls, ceilings, and floors. They combine the functions of lumber frames and insulation in one so they are deemed to be stronger, more long-lasting, and more energy-efficient.
Air Sealing and Moisture Control
Are you done with air sealing and moisture control? If you neglect air sealing and make sure that there are no leaks, attic rafters, or floor joists you might be wasting precious time and money on insulation.
Have a professional look and fix the air barriers, seal the gaps, deal with moisture problems, and check for the presence of asbestos. Once these concerns are out of the way, your insulation project would be so much more effective.
Once you have “calculated the expenses to see if [you] have enough to complete it”, so to speak, you can go ahead with your project of installing or adding insulation by following these steps and considering some more key issues:
- Will you do it yourself or should you hire an insulation professional? The answer depends on 1) whether the spaces you want to insulate are easily accessible for you or only an expert with proper tools and techniques can reach; 2) whether you are using easy-to-manage insulating materials like fiberglass or mineral wool insulation in the forms of batts and rolls and not the complicated kinds; 3) whether you are unsure about your skills, patience, and safety consciousness while performing the job. Otherwise, it could be best to turn it over to an experienced contractor.
- Do you have safety and protective equipment? Even if you are excited and ready to start with your insulation, it is critical to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before proceeding. Insulation materials can irritate the skin, eyes, and nose, not to mention the dust that you are going to disturb while working. A cap for your head, goggles for your eyes, an N-95 face mask, long sleeves for your arms, long and sturdy pants for your legs, and gloves to protect your hand from small cuts and bruises.
Have you read and studied the guidelines for insulation from a trusted source? Sure, you watched many YouTube videos on how to perform DIY insulation, but it is never wise to just ‘wing it when it comes to home comfort. Take advantage of the ample materials provided by the Department of Energy and other credible authorities in home insulation.